Consumer frauds often make claims that are too good to be true. But a recent one, cited by regulators around the world Wednesday, depended on a pitch that many people found completely believable — that Microsoft or another computer company knows what is on your personal computer.
The Federal Trade Commission announced a multinational crackdown on so-called tech support scams, in which a caller fools a consumer into believing Microsoft or a computer security company has discovered that a PC is infected with harmful software. The caller then offers to fix the computer on the spot for a price. The target would sometimes let the ostensible tech support company gain remote access to his computer, allowing the company to download software to it.
In six cases filed in federal district court in Manhattan, the commission named 17 individuals and 14 companies, most in India, as participants in the operations, including many with legitimate-sounding names like Virtual PC Solutions and Zeal IT Solutions.
At the commission’s request, a federal district judge in Manhattan froze the United States assets of the suspects. The commission also said it had shut down 80 Internet domain names and 130 phone numbers in the United States used in the scheme. Efforts to reach several of the companies and individuals were unsuccessful.
Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the trade commission, said at a news conference that the scheme involved getting a computer user to look at a program that is a standard part of the Windows operating system…
The caller would then warn that those files indicated viruses that could crash the computer or, in at least one case studied by the F.T.C., that the computer could explode…
The suspected fraud occurred in several English-speaking countries. Joining the F.T.C. in the enforcement action were the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission and Britain’s Serious Organized Crime Agency.
David Vladeck, director of the F.T.C.’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the commission was working with law enforcement officials in India to catch the perpetrators. The commission has also referred the cases to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution.
If someone contacts you – or you see a tempting advert for someone offering to clean your computer’s software up for you – do yourself a favor and contact the computer’s manufacturer and ask what they think of the offer and the source?